With support from the Open Society Foundations, Pro Bono Net’s Legal Empowerment and Technology Initiative seeks to advance the strategy and practice of technology-enabled legal empowerment efforts in the US. Our initiative strives to expand access to justice and build legal capacity in local communities, in partnership with civil justice organizations from across the nation. In Alaska, we are making it easier to apply for disability benefits. In Puerto Rico, we are helping homeowners identify their risk of foreclosure. And in New York, we are simplifying the wage theft claim filing process.
Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of leading a range of virtual engagements with our Legal Empowerment and Technology cohort. These virtual engagements blend participatory action research methods with design thinking to co-design legal empowerment technology solutions. In today’s blog post, I’ll be reviewing three co-design activities from a remote workshop we ran for ¡Reclamo!
Why a Co-Design Workshop?
After conducting some user research, our team decided to run a two-hour co-design workshop with our partners. Our goal was to better understand what kinds of aesthetics our partners associate with their work. It is critical that visual cues in our tool, like icons, photos, and other imagery, align with the lived experiences of community navigators and workers. Although originally intended to be an in-person experience, I was able to quickly pivot the experience into a remote workshop with help from our designer, Ángel López, whose work also leverages co-design strategies to respond to systemic problems.
We chose a workshop format because we wanted the experience to be collaborative. Even when remote, we believe that our design choices should be led by the expertise of worker organizers to the greatest extent possible. While COVID complicated this effort, we were able to create an environment where myself, our designer, and the organizers could brainstorm solutions together.
The Key Difference
Online facilitation and participation influence our time and energy differently compared to in-person experiences. When thinking through the strategy behind each activity, our team kept the following constraints in mind:
- Our participants’ comfort and familiarity with technology
- Possible language barriers
- How much time it takes to explain and complete each activity
- Poor internet connection
- Work-from-home fatigue
Activity 1: Photo Feedback
- For our first activity, we asked our participants to review a short Google Deck slide of images that we had sourced related to construction work.
- We asked our participants to copy and paste a check mark icon or “no” icon to indicate which photos resonated with them.
- After they indicated their preferences, we asked the participants to talk us through why they liked or disliked a photo.
This activity worked well because the instructions were easy to explain and understand. We learned a lot from listening to our participants talk about why they preferred certain images over others.
For example, while one participant liked image seven because it depicts both men and women workers, they would not recommend using it because neither of the workers is wearing sufficient safety gear. These kinds of details are crucial to ensure that the tool resonates with the lived experiences of the community.
Activity 2: Creating Icons with Autodraw
- Our second activity was more experimental. We decided to use an AI-powered tool called AutoDraw to make drawing easier for the team as a whole.
- We presented the team with keywords related to construction and wage theft.
- We then asked our participants to “draw” images that they associate with those keywords using Autodraw.
- Everyone in the workshop (including myself and our designer) participated.
This activity was not a good fit for our workshop participants. The idea of the workshop was too abstract. Introducing and training our participants in using Autodraw was time-consuming. We wound up scrapping this activity mid-way. We switched to talking through our ideas instead of using Autodraw because our previous activity revealed that the participant found verbally explaining their ideas easier than drawing them.
Activity 3: Imagining Screens
- Our last activity took advantage of a good old fashioned pen and paper.
- We presented the participants with a prompt that everyone answered with their own sketch
- Everyone had the option to either upload their sketch directly to the Slides or email them to me.
- Everyone in the workshop (including myself and our designer) participated
This activity went smoothly. Our participants knew how to take photos and upload those photos to the Slides. Those who didn’t could email their photo directly so Angel or I could upload it. Having an alternative method for participants to engage in saved significant time. We wound up using the extra time to dig deeper into each participant’s sketch!
From our conversations, we learned that organizing calculation information from top to bottom would be an intuitive way to display the facts of a worker’s wage theft case. We were also reminded of the values that underpin our efforts; one of the sketches an organizer shared depicted a family in front of their home. The organizer explained that she is always speaking to workers who care deeply about providing for their families. The organizer’s reaffirmed that helping workers access justice must drive the development of ¡Reclamo!.
Thoughtfully planning the strategy behind activities for a virtual workshop takes a lot of work, but it is well worth it. Although an in-person workshop experience would have been ideal, virtual engagements can still be an effective and collaborative way of designing solutions with, not for, communities.
This is the second part of Pro Bono Net’s three-part blog series on legal empowerment and co-design best practices. To read part three, click here.